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Injured by a homeless man, she’s using the crime to kill an AI safety law

The image shows a mostly empty café with a few tables and chairs. A highlighted section focuses on a woman using a laptop near a window, with a man standing behind her.
A still from surveillance footage shows the moment a homeless man threw a chair through a glass window, cutting Vivian Shen’s face open on Oct. 3, 2023. | Source: Photo Illustration by The Standard

Vivian Shen was sitting in a Mission Dolores coffee shop one afternoon in October when a homeless man threw a chair through the glass window in front of her, cutting her face open.

Eight months later, Shen started tweeting about the incident in a series of viral posts that tied it to a bill seeking to regulate AI put forward by state Sen. Scott Wiener.

Confused? It helps to know a few things: Shen’s an AI entrepreneur. Her partner is a big AI investor. And the guy who threw the chair recently died.

@Scott_Wiener Get your priorities straight. This bill sucks,” Shen wrote in a June 18 post. “Focus on keeping us ACTUALLY safe.”

In a follow-up post that has netted over 822,000 views, Shen, who founded an AI startup, used the popular “nobody” meme format to take a dig at Wiener—and progressives. “Progressives: You are rich and powerful, you deserved it,” she wrote.

Shen argues the bill will cramp and discourage AI development, pushing some firms out of San Francisco or even the state, and expose engineers, startup founders and developers to potential criminal liability. She believes the bill’s authors lack industry experience and technical expertise. Wiener said the only criminal liability companies might face are perjury charges if they lie on safety certificate forms. 

None of that, however, explains why Shen is tying her critique of the bill to the coffee shop incident. In an interview with The Standard, Shen acknowledged the connection existed primarily in her head. 

“People have definitely called me names,” Shen said. “They say that I’m trying to use this for whatever purpose, but if there’s something good that can come out of what happened to me then, yeah, I’ll share my story.”

A man with glasses and a beard speaks animatedly, wearing a dark blue shirt and a headset microphone. The backdrop features the word "DISRUPT" repeatedly.
Anjney Midha speaks onstage during TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018 at the Moscone Center. | Source: Kimberly White/TechCrunch/Getty

In making her case against the bill, Shen has repeatedly cited venture capitalist Anjney Midha of Andreessen Horowitz. She reposted his X posts, and suggested that a Standard reporter speak with him to understand the bill better. 

Neither on X nor in the interview did she volunteer that she and Midha live together. Public records show Shen and Midha bought a home in the city together in 2019.

When asked if Midha, a general partner at a16z, is her husband, she would not answer as she has “stalkers on the internet.” Shen would not say if she reported any alleged harassment to the police. But has posted quote tweets of Midha’s criticizing the AI bill.

Spro Coffee Lab’s Rich Lee shared surveillance footage of the incident, which shows Shen is hit with a faceful of glass, fleeing to the back of the establishment. Shen provided receipts for $3,750 worth of scar-reducing laser treatments, and said she had to speak at a conference and attend a wedding with bandages on her face due to it being “cut up.”

“She kept telling us that she was OK and assured that it wasn’t our fault,” said Lee. Shen shared a not-for-publication photo of her injuries with The Standard; it shows two small cuts on her forehead and a smattering of blood.

A man is seen harassing patrons and shattering a window at Spro Coffee House's Mission Dolores/Castro location on Friday, Oct. 6, 2023. | Source: Courtesy Rich Lee

Police confirmed the incident and said two patrons were injured and taken to the hospital for minor injuries on Oct. 3, 2023. Witnesses flagged down arriving officers, who took a man into custody before arresting him, police said.

David Burke, an SFPD civilian public safety liaison, told The Standard that the homeless man seen on surveillance footage throwing the chair was Timothy Gatts. He was charged with two counts of assault with a deadly weapon other than a gun and one count of felony vandalism.

Gatts, 35, died on May 29, the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office said Wednesday. His cause of death has not yet been determined.

​​”I think part of the reason why I feel more comfortable talking about it now is, unfortunately, because he’s passed away,” Shen said, adding that she also heard about the bill around the same time she was told of Gatts’ passing. “Learning those two things at once really pissed me off. Because I’m out here trying to justify what happened to me as part of doing business in San Francisco and part of living here, and meanwhile, our politicians are out there for their own political agenda.”

Shen and Midha aren’t alone in their opposition to the bill. In May, the AI Alliance–which includes big and small industry players like Meta, Hugging Face, Intel and Uber—announced its opposition to the bill, saying it feared “the potential establishment of an anti-open-source precedent.”

In the days following, Lee said Supervisor Rafael Mandelman and a police liaison stopped by to check on staff. The cafe also received a $2,000 grant from the city to help offset the $3,000 window repair cost. Local nonprofit Dear Community organized an event that brought 40 to 50 customers to the cafe, while neighbors helped board up the damaged window. Mandelman’s office didn’t comment on the incident. Dear Community did not respond to emails.

A white-painted building's corner shows the entrance to a cafe under red-painted signage.
Spro Coffee Lab is nestled on 17th Street in Mission Dolores. | Source: Tâm Vũ/The Standard

“I am saddened that this happened, but I am pleased to see such strong community support,” Lee said.

When asked about Shen’s use of the attack to battle the bill, Lee said he hadn’t spoken with her since the October incident but appreciated efforts to support small businesses, make the city safer, and attract more tourists.

“The Bay Area is renowned for its spirit of innovation, not just in technology but also in food and beverages. A bill that restricts innovation could harm what makes California exceptional,” Lee said. 

Wiener defended the bill, asserting that its requirement of safety evaluations for large artificial intelligence models only applies to companies spending over $100 million on AI model training and mandates safety assessments for potential catastrophic risks, such as the creation of weapons of mass destruction.

Wiener added that many large tech companies have already committed to such testing voluntarily. The senator said prior online-safety laws didn’t hamper tech companies’ success.

“Putting this common-sense basic safety protection in place around huge AI models is not going to in any way undermine California’s role as the beating heart of AI innovation.”

The bill goes before a state Assembly Judiciary Committee hearing on July 2.

“I can’t imagine what it’s like to be an AI engineer,” Lee said. “But I do know that if we imposed strict rules and restrictions on innovation, we’d still be drinking instant coffee or wearing green aprons.”